Alejandro Figueroa
Deutsches Forschungszentrum f¨ur K¨unstliche Intelligenz - DFKI, Stuhlsatzenhausweg 3, D - 66123, Saarbr¨ucken, Germany
John Atkinson
Department of Computer Sciences, Universidad de Concepci´on, Concepci´on, Chile
Web question answering, Definition questions, Lexical dependency paths, n-Gram language models.
This work presents a new approach to automatically answer definition questions from the Web. This approach
learns n-gram language models from lexicalised dependency paths taken from abstracts provided byWikipedia
and uses context information to identify candidate descriptive sentences containing target answers. Results
using a prototype of the model showed the effectiveness of lexicalised dependency paths as salient indicators
for the presence of definitions in natural language texts.
In the context of web question-answering systems,
definition questions differ markedly from standard
factoid questions. Factoid questions require a sin-
gle fact to be returned to the user, whereas, defini-
tion questions require a substantially more complex
response which succinctly defines the topic of the
question (a.k.a. definiendum or target) which the user
wishes to know about.
Definition questions have become especially in-
teresting in recent years as about 25% of the ques-
tions in real user logs and queries submitted to search
engines are requests for definitions (Rose and Levin-
son, 2004). Question Answering Systems that focus
on discovering answers to definition questions usu-
ally aim at finding succinct, diverse and accurate fac-
tual information about the definiendum. These pieces
of information are usually called nuggets or “Seman-
tic Context Units”. Specifically, answers to ques-
tions about politicians would then comprise important
dates in their lives (birth, marriage and death), their
major achievements, and any other interesting items,
such as party membership or leadership. For instance,
an answer to the question“Who is Gordon Brown?
would contain the following descriptive sentence:
Gordon Brown is a British politician and
leader of the Labour Party.
Accordingly, this paper investigates the extent to
which descriptive sentences, taken from the web, can
be characterised by some regularities in their lexi-
calised dependency paths. These regularities are as-
sumed to identify definitions in web documents.
Question-Answering Systems (QAS) are usually as-
sessed as a part of the QA track of the Text RE-
trieval Conference (TREC). QAS attempt to extract
answers from a target collection of news documents:
the AQUAINT corpus. In order to discover correct
answers to definition questions, QAS in TREC ex-
tract nuggets from several external specific resources
of descriptive information (e.g. online encyclopedia
and dictionaries), and must then project them into the
corpus. Generally speaking, this projection strategy
relies on two main tasks:
1. Extract external resources containing entries cor-
responding to the definiendum.
2. Find overlaps between terms in definitions (within
the target collection) and terms in the specific re-
In order to extract sentences related to the
definiendum, some approaches take advantage of ex-
Figueroa A. and Atkinson J.
DOI: 10.5220/0001833806380645
In Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies (WEBIST 2009), page
ISBN: 978-989-8111-81-4
2009 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
ternal resources (e.g., WordNet), online specific re-
sources (e.g., Wikipedia) and Web snippets (Cui et al.,
2004). These are then used to learn frequencies of
words that correlate to the definiendum. Experiments
showed that definitional websites greatly improved
the performance by leaving few unanswered ques-
tions: Wikipedia covered 34 out of the 50 TREC–
2003 definition queries, whereas cov-
ered 23 out of 30 questions regarding people, all to-
gether providing answers to 42 queries. These corre-
lated words were then used to form a centroid vector
so that sentences can be ranked according to the co-
sine distance to this vector.
One advantage of this kind of model is that
this ranks candidate answers according to the de-
gree in which their respective words characterise the
definiendum, which is the principle known as the Dis-
tributional Hypothesis (Harris, 1954). However, the
approach fails to capture sentences containing the
correct answers with words having low correlation
with the definiendum. This in turn causes a less di-
verse output, thus decreasing the coverage. In addi-
tion, taking into account only semantic relationships
is insufficient for ranking answer candidates: the
co-occurrence of the definiendum with learnt words
across candidate sentences does not necessarily guar-
antee that they are syntactically dependent. An ex-
ample of this can be seen in the following sentence
regarding “British Prime Minister Gordon Brown”:
According to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s
office, Gordon Brown was reluctant to signal
the withdrawal of British troops.
In order to deal with this issue, (Chen et al., 2006)
introduced a method that extended centroid vectors
to include word dependencies which are learnt from
the 350 most frequent stemmed co-occurring terms
taken from the best 500 snippets retrieved by Google.
These snippets were fetched by expanding the origi-
nal query by a set of highly co-occurring terms. These
terms co-occur with the definiendum in sentences ob-
tained by submitting the original query plus some
task specific clues, (e.g.,“biography”). Nevertheless,
having a threshold of 350 frequent words is more
suitable for technical or accurate definiendums (i.e.,
SchadenFreude”), than for ambiguous or biographi-
cal definiendums (i.e., Alexander Hamilton”) which
need more words to describe many writings of their
several facets. These 350 words are then used for
building an ordered centroid vector by retaining their
original order within the sentences. To illustrate this,
consider the following example:
Today’s Highlight in History: On November
14, 1900, Aaron Copland, one of America’s
leading 20th century composers, was born in
New York City.
The corresponding ordered centroid vectors be-
come the words
November 14 1900 Aaron Copland
America composer born New York City."
which are
then used for training statistical language models and
ranking candidate answers. Bi-gram language mod-
els were observed to significantly improve the qual-
ity of the extracted answers. Furthermore, Bi-term
language models yield better results, showing that
flexibility and relative position of lexical terms cap-
ture shallow information about their syntactic relation
(Belkin and Goldsmith, 2002).
While Google provides facilities to search for def-
initions on the web, other approaches (Cui et al.,
2004; Chen et al., 2006) are aimed at discovering an-
swers from the AQUAINT corpus. Every time a user
enters “define:definiendum,the search engine returns
a set of glossaries containing definitions of the term.
Although it is unknown how Google gathers these
glossaries: which strategies are involved? What is
manual or automatic? (Xu et al., 2005) observed that
these glossaries seem to have some common proper-
ties: pages are titled with task-specific clues includ-
ing glossary” and dictionary”, the terms in the page
are alphabetically sorted and presented with the same
style, for instance, italics and bold print. Bearing this
in mind, this method yields wider coverage. Never-
theless, succinct definitions taken from different glos-
saries are very likely to convey redundant informa-
tion, while at the same time, new concepts are rarely
found in glossaries, but in web-sites such as blogs
or forums. All things considered, QAS are forced to
search for additional information across several docu-
ments in order to satisfactorily provide an answer for
the user.
We propose a model which is capable of answering
definition questions by making use of contextual lan-
guage models when ranking candidate sentences. For
this, dependency paths are hypothesised to provide
the balance between lexical semantic and syntactic in-
formation required to characterise definitions. In par-
ticular, this work claims that many descriptive sen-
tences can be identified by means of contextual lexi-
calised dependency paths. To illustrate this, consider
the following phrase:
CONCEPT is a * politician and leader of the
WEBIST 2009 - 5th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Human readers would quickly notice that the
sentence is a definition of a politician, de-
spite the missing concept and words. This
is made possible due to the existence of two
dependency paths
, and
. The former acts as a
context indicator indicating the type of definiendum
being described, whereas the latter yields content that
is very likely to be found across descriptions of this
particular context indicator (politician). A key differ-
ence from the vast majority of TREC systems is that
the inference is drawn by using contextual informa-
tion conveyed by several descriptions of politicians,
instead of using additional sources that provide infor-
mation about a particular definiendum (e. g., Gordon
In our approach, context indicators and their
corresponding dependency paths are learnt from
abstracts provided by Wikipedia. Specifically,
contextual n-gram language models are constructed
on top of these contextual dependency paths in
order to recognise sentences conveying definitions.
Unlike other QA systems (Hildebrandt et al., 2004),
definition patterns are applied at the surface level
(Soubbotin, 2001) and key named entities are
identified using named-entity recognizers (NER)
Preprocessed sentences are then parsed by using a
lexicalised dependency parser
, in which obtained
lexical trees are used for building a treebank of
lexicalised definition sentences. As an example, the
following trees extracted from the treebank represent
two highly-frequent definition sentences:
Concept was born in Entity, Entity.
Concept is a tributary of the Entity in Entity.
The treebank contains trees for 1, 900,642 different
sentences in which each entity is replaced with a
placeholder. This placeholder allows us to reduce the
sparseness of the data and to obtain more reliable fre-
quency counts. For the same reason, we did not con-
sider different categories of entities and capitalised
adjectives were mapped to the same placeholder.
From the sentences in the treebank, our method
identifies potential Context Indicators. These involve
words that signal what is being defined or what type
of descriptive information is being expressed. Con-
text indicators are recognised by walking through the
dependency tree starting from the root node. Since
only sentences matching definition patterns are taken
into account, there are some regularities that are help-
ful to find the respective context indicator. Occa-
sionally, the root node itself is a context indicator.
However, whenever the root node is a word contained
in the surface patterns (e.g. is, was and are), the
method walks down the hierarchy. In the case that
the root has several children, the first child (differ-
ent from the concept) is interpreted as the context
indicator. Note that the method must sometimes go
down one more level in the tree depending of the ex-
pression holding the relationship between nodes (i.e.,
part/kind/sort/type/class/first of”). Furthermore, the
used lexical parser outputs trees that meet the projec-
tion constrain, hence the order of the sentence is pre-
served. Overall, 45, 698 different context indicators
were obtained during parsing. Table 1 shows the most
frequent indicators acquired with our method, where
) is the probability of finding a sentence triggered
by the context indicator c
within the treebank.
Table 1: Some Interesting Context Indicators.
Indicator P(c
) 10
Indicator P(c
) 10
born 1,5034 company 1,32814
album 1,46046 game 1,31932
member 1,45059 organization 1,31836
player 1,38362 band 1,31794
film 1,37389 song 1,3162
town 1,37243 author 1,31601
school 1,35213 term 1,31402
village 1,35021 series 1,31388
station 1,34465 politician 1,30075
son 1,33464 group 1,29767
Next, candidate sentences are grouped according
to the obtained context indicators. Consequently,
highly-frequent directed dependency paths within a
particular context are hypothesised to significantly
characterise the meaning when describing an in-
stance of the corresponding context indicator. This is
strongly based on the extended distributional hypoth-
esis (Lin and Pantel, 2001) which states that if two
paths tend to occur in similar contexts, their meanings
tend to be similar. In addition, the relationship be-
tween two entities in a sentence is almost exclusively
concentratedin the shortest path between the two enti-
ties of the undirected version of the dependency graph
(Bunescu and Mooney, 2005). Hence, one entity can
be interpreted as the definiendum, and the other can
be any entity within the sentence. Therefore, paths
linking a particular type of definiendum with a class
of entity relevant to its type will be highly frequent
in the context (e. g., politician leader of
For each context, all directed paths containing two
to five nodes are extracted. Longer paths are not taken
into consideration as they are likely to indicate weaker
syntactic/semantic relations. Directions are mainly
considered, because relevant syntactical information
regarding word order is missed when going up the de-
pendency tree. Otherwise, undirected graphs would
lead to a significant increase in the number of paths
as it might go from any node to any other node. Some
illustrative directed paths obtained from the treebank
for the context indicator politician are shown below:
From the obtained dependency paths, an n-gram
statistical language model (n = 5) for each context
was built in order to estimate the most relevant de-
pendency path. The probability of a dependency path
dp in a context c
is defined by the likely depen-
dency links that compose the path in the context c
with each link probability conditional on the last n1
linked words:
dp | c
| c
) (1)
Where p(w
| c
) is the probability of word
is linked with the previous word w
after seeing
the dependencypath w
.. . w
. In simple words,
the likelihood that w
is a dependent node of w
, and
is the head of w
, and so forth (see example in
figure 1).
The probabilities p(w
| c
) are usually
computed by computing the Maximum Likelihood Es-
. However, in our case, the
word count c(c
) can frequently be greater
than c(c
). For example, in the following def-
inition sentence:
Concept is a band formed in Entity in Entity.
The word “formed” is the head of two “in”, hence
the denominator of p(w
| c
) is the number of
times w
is the head of a word (after seeing w
The obtained 5-gram language model is smoothed by
interpolating with shorter dependencypaths (Zhai and
Lafferty, 2004; Chen and Goodman, 1996) as follows:
| c
) =
| c
+(1 λ
| c
The probability of a path is accordingly computed
as shown in equation 1 by accounting for the recursive
interpolated probabilities instead of raw Ps. Note also
that λ
is computed for each context c
and Goodman, 1996). A sentence S is ranked accord-
ing to its likelihood of being a definition as follows:
rank(S) = p(c
dp | c
) (2)
In order to avoid counting redundant dependency
paths, only paths ending with a leave node are taken
into account, whereas duplicate paths are discarded.
3.1 Extracting Candidate Answers
Our model extracts answers to definition questions
from Web snippets. Thus, sentences matching defi-
nition patterns at the surface level are pre-processed
and parsed in order to get the corresponding lexi-
calised dependency trees. Given a set of test sen-
tences/dependency trees extracted from the snippets,
our approach discovers answers to definition question
by iteratively selecting sentences.
1: φ =
2: indHis = getContextIndicatorsHistogram(T)
3: for highest to lowest frequent ι indHis do
4: while true do
5: next = null
6: for all t
T do
7: if ind(t
)==ι then
8: rank = rank(t
9: if next == null or rank > rank(next) then
10: next = t
11: end if
12: end if
13: end for
14: if next == null or rank(next) 0.005 then
15: break;
16: end if
17: print next
18: addPaths(next,φ)
19: end while
20: end for
The general strategy for this iterative selection
task can be seen in algorithm 1 whose input is the set
of dependency path (T). This first initialises a set φ,
which keeps the dependency paths belongingto previ-
ously selected sentences (line 1). Next, context indi-
cators for each candidate sentence are extracted so as
to build an histogram indHist (line 2). Since highly-
frequent context indicators indicate more reliable po-
tential senses, the method favours candidate sentences
3 qiul/NLPTools/JavaRAP.html
WEBIST 2009 - 5th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Figure 1: Bigram raw probabilities for c
= “rheologist
according to their context indicator frequencies (line
3). Sentences matching the current context indica-
tor are ranked according to equation 2 (lines 7 and
8). However, only paths
dp in t
φ are taken into
consideration while computing equation 2. Sentences
are thus ranked according to their novel paths re-
specting to previously selected sentences, while at
the same time, sentences carrying redundant informa-
tion, decrease their ranking value systematically. The
highest ranked sentences are selected after each itera-
tion (lines 9-11), and their corresponding dependency
paths are added to φ (line 18). If the highest ranked
sentence meets the halting conditions, the extraction
task finishes. Halting conditions must ensure that no
more sentences are left and that there are no more can-
didate sentences containing strong evidence of carry-
ing novel descriptive content.
In this answer extraction approach, candidate sen-
tences become less relevant as long as their over-
lap with all previously selected sentences becomes
larger. Unlike other approaches (Hildebrandt et al.,
2004; Chen et al., 2006) which control the overlap at
the word level, our basic unit is a dependency path,
that is, a group of related words. Thus, our method
favours novel content, while at the same time, making
a global check of the redundant content. Also, the use
of paths instead of words as units ensures that differ-
ent instances of a word, that contribute with different
descriptive content, will be accounted accordingly.
In order to assess our initial hypothesis, a prototype
of our model was built and assessed by using 189 def-
inition questions taken from TREC 2003-2004-2005
tracks. Since our model extracts answers from the
web, these TREC datasets were only used as refer-
ence question sets. For each question, the best 300
web snippets were retrieved by using MSN Search
and manually inspected in order to create a gold stan-
dard. Accordingly, the search strategy described in
(Figueroa and Neumann, 2007) was utilised for fetch-
ing these web snippets. It is important to note that
there was no descriptive information for 11 questions
corresponding to the TREC 2005 data set. For ex-
periment purposes, two baselines were implemented,
and the three systems were provided with the same
set of snippets. As different F-scores get involved,
the evaluation stuck to the most recent standard by us-
ing uniform weights for the nuggets(Lin and Demner-
Fushman, 2006).
Table 2: Some associations with w
~w =< w
, w
> I
(~w) ~w =< w
, w
, w
> I
< w
, diplomat> 7.06 < a, w
, currently> 7.41
< w
, currently> 4.33 < w
, who, currently> 7.14
< w
, opposition> 4.15 < a, w
, conservative> 2.93
< w
, conservative> 3.44 < a, w
, opposition> 2.71
While our model was almost exclusively built
upon dependency paths, the first baseline (BASELINE
I) was constructed on top of word association norms
(Church and Hanks, 1990). These norms were com-
puted from the same set of 1,900,642 preprocessed
sentences taken from abstracts of Wikipedia. These
norms comprise pairs I
and triplets I
of ordered
words as sketched in table 2. Next, the baseline
chooses sentences according to algorithm 1, but mak-
ing allowances for these norms instead of dependency
paths. Sentences are then ranked according to the sum
of the matching norms which are normalised by divid-
ing them by the highest value. This baseline does not
account for context indicators, so that every sentence
is assumed to have the same context indicator.
These word association norms compare the prob-
ability of observing w
followed by w
within a fixed
window of ten words with the probabilities of observ-
Table 3: Sample output sentences regarding “Andrea Bocelli”.
Born in Lajatico, Italy, tenor singer Andrea Bocelli became blind at the age of 12 after a
sports injury, and later studied law, but decided on a singing career.
Born on September 22, 1958, Andrea Bocelli is an Italian operatic pop tenor and a classical
crossover singer who has also performed in operas.
Andrea Bocelli is a world class Italian tenor and classical crossover artist.
Andrea Bocelli was born 22 September 1958 in Lajatico in Tuscany, Italy.
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer and songwriter from Italy.
Andrea Bocelli has been the world’s most successful classical artist for the past five years,
selling 45 million albums.
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer who is famous throughout the world.
Andrea Bocelli has been a bestselling Italian artist, with over 12 million albums sold in Europe
since the debut of his self-titled CD in 1993.
Andrea bocelli was born in italy in 1958, and began to sing as a child.
Andrea Bocelli, the world’s most popular tenor (and Best selling) and pop sensation as well,
has recorded The Best of Andrea.
ing w
and w
independently. Since the major differ-
ence between both systems is the use of these norms
instead of dependency paths, the baseline provides a
good starting point for measuring the contribution of
our dependency-based models.
A second baseline (BASELINE II) makes al-
lowances for the centroid vector (Cui et al., 2004).
Sentences are thus selected by using algorithm 1, but
ranked according to their similarity with this vector.
Since our strategies are aimed specifically at being
independent of looking specific entries in external re-
sources, this centroid vector was learnt from all re-
trieved sentences containing the definiendum. These
sentences include those which did not match defini-
tion patterns. In the same way, all these sentences
are seen as candidates later, and hence, contrary to
the two other systems, this baseline can identify de-
scriptions from sentences that do not match definition
Table 4: Results for TREC question sets.
TREC 2003 TREC 2004 TREC 2005
Size 50 64 (64)/75
Recall 0.52±0.18 0.47±0.13 0.49±0.20
Precision 0.27±0.14 0.26±0.11 0.29±0.24
F(3) Score 0.46±0.14 0.42±0.11 0.43±0.17
Recall 0.27±0.23 0.27±0.16 0.24±0.17
Precision 0.20±0.19 0.20±0.19 0.18±0.23
F(3) Score 0.24±0.18 0.25±0.15 0.22±0.16
Recall 0.57±0.17 0.50±0.18 0.42±0.22
Precision 0.39±0.21 0.40±0.19 0.29±0.21
F(3) Score 0.53±0.15 0.47±0.17 0.38±0.19
The main results obtained can be seen at table
4. Overall, our model outperformed BASELINE I
in 5.22% and 11.90% for the TREC 2003 and 2004
datasets, respectively. These increases are mainly due
to definiendums such as Allen Iverson and Fred
Durst”, while the performance worsened for “Rhodes
Scholars and “Albert Ghiorso”. In terms of the stan-
dard deviation, the increase in dispersion may be due
to the fact that our language models are independently
built for each context indicator, whereas the associ-
ation norms are computed as if every sentence be-
longed to the same context.
Consequently, due to the limited coverage pro-
vided by Wikipedia, some contexts were obtained
with few samples, causing some low p(c
) values.
Hence, our method may miss many nuggets whenever
a low-frequent context indicator is the predominant
potential sense. This can be addressed by taking ab-
stracts into consideration in newer and older versions
of Wikipedia. In addition, collecting short definitions
from glossaries across documents on the Web can also
be beneficial. These glossaries can be automatically
extracted by identifiying regularities in their lay-outs:
tables, entries alphabetically sorted, and bold print.
In general, our approach identified more nuggets
than both baselines, and as we hypothesised, these
pieces of information were characterised by regular-
ities in their contextual dependency paths. In the
case of TREC 2003, the average recall increased from
0.52 to 0.57 (9.6%), whereas it improved 6.4% for
the TREC 2004 dataset. An illustrative output pro-
duced by our system can be seen in table 3. On the
other hand, definiendums such as Jennifer Capriatti
and “Heaven’s Gate resulted in significant recall im-
provements, whereas Abercrombie and Fitch and
Chester Nimitz” went into steep declines.
Furthermore, our approach achieved higher preci-
sion for two datasets. In the case of the TREC 2003,
the increase was 44.44%, whereas it was 53.84% for
the TREC 2004 question set. Our model was capable
of filtering out a larger amount of sentences that did
not yield descriptions. As a result, linguistic infor-
WEBIST 2009 - 5th International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
Table 5: Sample containing issues regarding performance.
NOTES: Presents an examination of the Teapot Dome scandal that took place during the presidency
of Warren G. Harding in the 1920s.
Teapot Dome Scandal was a scandal that occurred during the Harding Administration.
This article focuses on the Teapot Dome scandal, which took place during the administration of
U. S. President Warren G. Harding.
The Teapot Dome Scandal was a scandal under the administration of President Warren Harding which
involved critical government oil fields.
Teapot Dome Scandal cartoon The Teapot Dome Scandal was an oil reserve scandal during the 1920s.
The Teapot Dome scandal became a parlor issue in the presidential election of 1924 but, as the
investigation had only just started earlier that year, neither party could claim full.
The Teapot Dome scandal was a victory for neither political party in the 1920’s, it did become a
major issue in the presidential election of 1924, but neither party could claim full.
mation provided by lexicalised dependency paths was
observed to be particularly important to increase the
accuracy of the answers.
As for TREC 2005, our system finished with a
lower recall and F(3)-Score. A closer look at the
achieved results shows that our system increased the
performance in 37 out of the 64 questions, while in 24
cases the performance was reduced. A key point here
was that in six of these 24 cases, our system obtained
a recall of zero. These zero recall values cause F(3)-
Scores equal to zero, and eventually, bringing about a
considerable decline in the average F(3)-Score. Three
of these six questions correspond to the definiendums:
Rose Crumb and 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption
as well as “Crash of EgyptAir Flight 990”.
Two common issues for these six scenarios are:
(a) few nuggets were found within the fetched snip-
pets, and (b) these nuggets had a low frequency.
Hence, whenever our system missed any or all of
them, the performance was detrimental. This situa-
tion becomes graver whenever the nuggets are in con-
texts that are very unlikely to be in our models. To
measure the impact of these six cases, the average
F(3)-Score was compared by accounting solely for the
other 58 questions: 0.43 for our system, and 0.41 for
the first baseline. In order to investigate the overall
precision of the approaches, the Mean Average Preci-
sion (MAP) of the top one and five ranked sentences
(accounting for Precision at one and ve”, respec-
tively) was computed as seen in table 6.
Obtained MAP scores show that using our contex-
tual models effectively contributes to improving the
ranking of the sentences. Essentially, they help to bias
the ranking in favour of descriptive sentences that: (a)
have some lexico-syntactic similaritieswith sentences
in Wikipedia abstracts, and more importantly (b) cor-
respond to predominant and hence, more reliable, po-
tential senses. One important finding is that our sys-
tem did not only outperform the other two strategies,
but it also finished with a high precision in ranking,
containing a valid definition at the top in about 80%
Table 6: Mean Average Precision (MAP).
TREC 2003
MAP-1 0.64 0.16 0.82
MAP-5 0.64 0.21 0.82
TREC 2004
MAP-1 0.66 0.27 0.88
MAP-5 0.62 0.25 0.82
TREC 2005
MAP-1 0.77 0.18 0.79
MAP-5 0.70 0.24 0.77
of the cases.
Unlike TREC systems, our system was evaluated
by using sentences extracted from the web. While we
took advantage of sophisticated search engines, these
are not optimised for QA tasks. In addition, many
TREC systems make use of off-line processing on the
AQUAINT corpus in order to boost the performance
(Hildebrandt et al., 2004) so that when ranking, they
use extra features such as entities, which are also use-
ful in recognising definitions. Instead, our approach
achieves a competitive performance, when ranking by
accounting almost exclusively for the lexical syntactic
and semantic similarities to previously known defini-
tions that describe another instances of the same kind
of definiendum. Note also that sense taggers might be
applied to accurately recognise entities. It is somehow
traded off by ranking definitions based on dependency
paths which require less time to compute.
The additional knowledge used when ranking is
the frequency of the context indicators, which as-
sists the model in ranking frequent potential senses,
and more reliable sentences. Our experiments thus
showed that dependency paths provide key lexico-
semantic and syntactic information that characterises
definitions at the sentence level.
The use of relations between a group of words in-
stead of isolated terms for ranking sentences also en-
sures a certain level of grammaticality in the candi-
date answers. Since web snippets are often truncated
by search engines, relations allow us to select trun-
cated sentences that are more likely to convey a com-
plete idea than others. On the other hand, two differ-
ent dependency paths can yield the same descriptive
information, causing an increment in redundancy(see
Teapot Dome Scandal” in table 5).
Experiments using our model showed that lexicalised
dependency paths serve as salient indicators for the
presence of definitions in natural language texts. The
model also outperformed some baseline built from
previous TREC dataset showing the promise of the
approach by using context information. This suggests
that learning contextual entities may improve the per-
Further strategies to detect redundancy can be
developed by recognising similar dependency paths
(Chiu et al., 2007). This provides a key advantage
of using dependency paths for answering definition
questions. Context indicators defined for our ap-
proach can also be used to cluster definition sentences
according to their senses.
This work was partially supported by a research
grant from the German Federal Ministry of Educa-
tion, Science, Research and Technology (BMBF) to
the DFKI project
(FKZ: 01 IW F02) and the
EC- funded project QALL-ME - FP6 IST-033860
( Additionally, this research was
partially sponsored by the National Council for Sci-
entific and Technological Research (FONDECYT,
Chile) under grant number 1070714.
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